Written September 10th:
"My mother always wanted me to be a doctor, but I never wanted to...I am an artist, I like to see nice things. Not blood. But they say what you don't like comes to you. They say God wants to make you complete. But I say this is a bad way to make me complete." -Rekha-ji (Homestay coordinator) on having to take care of her mother for 9 months when she had a blood clot in the memory center of her brain
"When you are Indian woman you are not told your rights. You are told your duties. Even today." -Rekha-ji
"With 9/11 people were scared to come to Rajasthan because they say Pakistan is close by. But I say today, everything is close by." -Rekha-ji
"The decent boys are not on the street. Like my son will never roam." -Rekha-ji
"I can't understand your German American accent." -Meenakshi-ji, my host mother
"If you put one foot in boiling water and one on a block of ice, on average you are comfortable." -Kanta-ji, International Development professor
"New York has Diwali all the year round! There are lights everywhere! I mean what is this? And it is very pretty for visitors, but think about the resources." -Kanta-ji
"India produces an Australia every year." [the population of Australia is about equal to the birth rate of India] -Kanta-ji
"In London Indian food is so popular that it's not funny anymore." (said very seriously) -Kanta-ji
"The coming of the monsoon has an almost erotic charge." -BBC's Michael Wood being ridiculous in "The Story of India"
"You are very fair, which of your parents is fair?" -Archana-ji, my Hindi teacher, randomly.
A man on the street greeted me and called me Katrina Kaif as I passed by.
"Money money money!" a small boy outside our apartment building as Rachel and I passed. The first time this happened I thought I may have imagined it, since Rachel didn't notice, but then it happened again.
Political Correctness or The Lack Thereof:
Rekha-ji refers to Native Americans as "red Indians"
Kanta-ji on the Jews: "They had plenty of money [when they first came to America]. They still have."
Dominique-ji (beginner's Hindi teacher, a French woman) to a girl of Indian descent who was adopted by White parents: "But [Hindi] should be easy for you, because it's in your blood."
Dominique-ji to Caitlin, a girl of Taiwanese descent after she stood up to write on the board: "You are not so small as one would expect."
"You like noodles? Chow mein?" -my host parents (Usually they ask food questions to both me and Rachel, but this question was just for me).
"But in Chinese dress you cannot do this. Chinese dress is very tight." -Vinita-ji, host aunt, commenting on a move I did during our impromptu extended family dance party tonight. I guess she was thinking of a chi pao, but people don't do traditional Chinese dances in those... X-/ Also I don't do traditional Chinese dance...And we were dancing to Bollywood music...even if I did do Chinese dance I wouldn't have been doing it at that point in time...
My host father's reaction upon my query as to how long it takes to get to Bodhgaya: [frowns, puts his hands out and shakes them in a warning gesture] "But people are different there. Not like in Rajasthan."
Excuuse me? What is that supposed to mean? I want to go there because it is where the Buddha attained enlightenment, and because I think it will be nice to be among East Asians. Why is different bad?? Am I only supposed to associate with Rajasthanis now? Wut??? Bodhgaya is such a significant place, why would mere "different people" keep me away from it??? I was kind of offended.
Soma, the elixir drunk by the gods and many ancient poets, is thought to have been made of poppy, cannabis and ephedra!
Rachel and I are losing our English. I catch myself speaking Indian English (wrong tenses, simplified sentences), and Rachel is just saying odd things. Funny but not funny... I mean, it is kind of cool that my brain has sponged up the rhythm and cadence of the way many people speak English here, but it really is annoying not sounding quite like myself.
The Hindi name for jasmine is rath ki rani--Night's Queen.
Big black snake! It was really beautiful. Saw it on a walk at night with my host family. They call it "two mouths" because it has the illusion of a head on its tail. It was really awesome to see it moving along quickly. It was like oil. Apparently not poisonous, since a lot of people walked right up to it to watch it. Rachel asked if they were common around here and our host mother said "No, this is the first time I am seeing one!" She was unsettled.
I am having a lot of trouble eating the food our host family makes us. Too much ghee! It was delicious at first but now the smell is starting to make me feel nauseous. I just can't handle so much of it. It seems like no one else's family piles it on the way ours does, so I'm thinking I should ask if they can just put less on my rotis. It is always glistening on both sides; if I hold it up lots drips onto my plate. Arrrrgh. And somehow the vegetables we tend to get are always slathered in a very similar flavor that I can't handle every day. :(. I've taken to trading my food at lunchtime. Which is fun, but I wish it didn't have to happen. I have been buying snacks outside of the home to get by.
The dust here is dreadful. It is like very fine sand by the sides of the road, and some days I can almost feel it clogging my lungs. I am tempted to walk around holding my dupatta over my face, or wearing a mask. Especially on auto rickshaw rides! Had my first ones yesterday, going to Mr. Beans coffee shop. (Where I had real, black coffee! It was called "Caffe Americano," which I thought was funny. Apparently my taste is stereotypical.) Anyway. Our first attempt at getting a rickshaw failed because the driver a) wanted 80 rupees when we knew it should be more around 40 b) didn't know where we were trying to go c) only bargained down to 60. Then our second attempt was not working out so well because we still couldn't explain what Mr. Beans was near. And then we got surrounded by auto rickshaws. Happily, a young man and two young women (probably University students) came over and helped us. They told us not to take one for more than 30, knew where we were trying to go, yelled at a rickshaw driver until he charged us properly, and explained to him how to take us there. It was so refreshing to be HELPED instead of hassled. Then on the way home we successfully (with some Hindi on my part, yaay!) got a ride for the right price from the first driver that stopped.
Class is strange; in the mornings I have Hindi with my own private Hindi teacher since I'm the only one at the "advanced" level. It was surprising; I expected to be placed with the students who came here 4 weeks early to learn Hindi. Anyway, Archana-ji is very nice and motherly, probably one of my favorite people here. She infuses our lessons with cultural information, which is helpful both in making vocab more relevant, as well as in aiding me in making sense of day to day life. I do a lot of reading with her. She told me that if I want to go to Varanasi I can stay with her sister who lives there. The international development class started out slow but is getting more interesting. And so far country analysis has consisted only of watching films; first the first two parts of "The Story of India" and then "Chak De! India" today, which I had already seen and written about in my final paper for Popular Visual Cultures of India. Grr. Anyway I used much of that time to study Hindi. Actually I have a homework assignment due Wednesday; a 2 to 6 page book report. It was assigned on Tuesday. I will have to do some serious reading this weekend.
(It is late at night as I am writing this...this was a long day. I guess the tone of the entry overall may be kind of down, but I am having a good time; just am very busy and stressed. Overstimulation!)
Men holding hands in public. I asked Rittu, a program coordinator, about this, and she said only people from "the lower strata" or "the villages", "the uneducated" do this. I've seen it many times. Which leads me to: a boy named Tyler in our program who is kind of naive. He goes to Luther College, is very friendly and exchanges cell phone numbers with random men he meets. He gets text messages like "God loves you. I love you. Let's meet up." "Are you alone?" "Why are you not calling me? Are you not wanting to make friendly with me?" "I am outside your house. Come out." And the other day he let someone hold hands with him!! So far he is having a lot of interesting experiences, and certainly getting out more than us girls, but I do not feel like this is going in a good direction...
Oh, also this is random but when I first sat at the same table for a meal with Tyler he asked me where I was from, and when I said Chicago, he said "Which suburb?" I have never had anyone ask that before! Why would one assume someone was from a suburb when she said the name of a city? Do I have a suburban air about me...? Apparently he is from a Chicagoan suburb.
Mom: do NOT read the rest of this entry. Please. I'm serious. You will not enjoy it. (Nothing bad happened, don't worry.) Skip to after the line of ***'s
So we have one other boy, Will, on our program. He went to a bar with Tyler and some men he had met. This is a composite of the stories they told me.
Young Indian Men (YIM): "American girls, they like to fuck a lot?"
Will/Tyler (WT): "Um....not really..."
YIM: In America, there are lots of gays.
WT: Yeah, I guess so.
YIM: And gays are not good.
WT: No, gays are fine. Gays are good. I like them, they're good people.
YIM: No. AIDS comes from gays.
WT: What? No. Where'd you hear that? Aren't you medical students?
YIM: In our textbooks it says that.
YIM: I have fucked men a few times. But I am not gay.
WT: (Will spits beer everywhere)
YIM: He was gay. I am not gay.
YIM: It's good, you should try it sometime.
I asked Will what else they discussed, and he said "Well you know, a little about classes and stuff. But mostly they just wanted to talk about. . . fucking."
Tyler said he was in a mall with some guys and they wanted to teach him sexual words in Hindi, but were doing so extremely quietly because they would be mortified if anyone else heard.
Written September 12th:
Today was a very full day. We did a tour of pretty much all the major forts and palaces around Jaipur. It started out strangely; the girls who had gotten to the meeting point for our tour earliest thought they had found our tour guide, and they started following him. He said our bus was coming at 10, when we had been told before that it was coming at 9. Will confirmed that Tyler had said when he did the tour, it had left later than the meeting time because Birla Mandir was included in the tour. (All the MSID students had seen the temple before, since we all live so close to it.) Anyway so the guide said he would take us to the "Birla Mandir art gallery." However when we got there, it was just a shop. At some point he also told us that our tour wasn't starting until 1. This was clearly a ridiculous time gap. Rachel and I didn't believe he was really a/our tour guide, so I called Mita-ji, a program coordinator who helped me find a bookstore yesterday. She said to go ask the man for his phone number so she could call him and clarify things. He gave me a number and went back to saying the bus would arrive at 10, but then after I'd walked back to my group and was about to call Mita-ji, he came up to me and said "this is wrong number" and handed me a business card. He said it was his older brother's card. It was very colorful, had a creepy face on it, and was all in Hindi. All I got out of it was that the largest print said only "RAVI" and that it was the card of a Jaipur guide. When I called Mita-ji she asked for the number on our tour receipt. She then called back and told me that our bus driver's name would be AP Sharma and that he should arrive at 9:30. A bus came up, we confirmed the driver's name, and all was well. It felt good to have successfully navigated out of a scam. I don't know why the other girls were so trusting.
The places we visited were so beautiful. I didn't realize that in addition to seeing the buildings we would get such an amazing view of the city and the Arawelli mountains. The sun was shining and the sky was perfect blue dotted with clouds. It was very hot out, I used my dupatta as a sun shield for my face and arms most of the time.
At the city palace I greeted the man at the "foreigner ticket window" with "Namaste, ji. Tin sau rupaya?" (Three hundred rupees?) just to be polite and say something. I knew that the price was 300 from reading the sign. However, he asked if I was studying Hindi, and seemed to want proof of this before allowing me to buy a ticket. So I showed him Rima-ji's business card. He looked at it for a long time and finally told me to "go inside"...do something...and then if I couldn't get in come back and he would give me a ticket for 200 rupees (this was all in Hindi, hence the lack of surety about what was going on..). So I went in, stood in someone's office awkwardly for a while, and then finally was not able to communicate with the people in the office. They asked if I needed an Indian ticket, and I said no, foreigner, so they just sent me back out to the ticket window, where I successfully got a 100 rupee discount. Yay! Then the rest of our group wanted to buy tickets, so I said we were all together, he asked how many total, I counted in Hindi, and then he gave everyone the same discount. He was very effusive about me speaking Hindi, it seemed like he was just giving us the discount because that made him happy, lol. It felt good.
Then tonight I had another moment of victory where the auto rickshaw I first got refused to give me the price I wanted. Last night I got home from the same place for 40 rupees, so I was definitely not going to go above that. But he refused and kept insisting "50, 50 is Indian price!" So I just walked on. He stayed there for a while though; maybe hoping I would reconsider since auto rickshaws are slightly less in abundance at night, but another pulled up, immediately gave me the price I wanted, and I rode off in victory. =). There was an indignant noise from the first auto rickshaw as I got into the second, but that will teach him to try and pull one over on me!
Tomorrow I am going to a church with some other girls from the program; one of their host dad's will take us. The service is at 8 am =(.
I have the BIGGEST MOSQUITO BITES EVAR right now...Last night they woke me up and I heard the sickening buzzing sound they make in my ear twice in the night. It was horrible. The repellant we usually have plugged into the wall was not on, I guess. I have probably about 8 bites on my arms, 2 on my toes (those are really painful, the skin on my toes feels so tight and walking irritates them), 2 on my neck, 3 on my fingers, about 10 on my legs...2 on my left elbow...it is horrible. Rrrrrgh. Good thing I've kept up with my malaria medication...Oh, yes, and today, probably during our tour, 2 appeared ON MY FACE. One on my cheek and one on my temple. I am not amused. On Friday we had a school field trip to Saganer, where we visited factories for the 3 ancient arts of Saganer: block printing, handmade paper, and blue pottery. It was really neat to see. My favorite was the handmade paper factory. We saw them assembling bags for Anokhi, shoeboxes for Puma, making huge tall stacks of paper in all colors, and putting together Christmas gift bags for export. At the block printing factory was a man who has been doing it for 42 years; he was very proud of his craft and got us all involved, helping to hit a block to transfer the color to cloth. They said an average tricolor block printed bedspread/hanging takes 9 hours to make. Blue pottery takes 35 days, and is fired in an oven which I believe they said uses 2 tons of wood at a time?? Can that be right? The smoke was so intense, I can't imagine working there every day. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Dupattas are becoming my best friend; smoke and dust shield, sun screen, face hider...